Andrew Collins answered your questions on vacationing in Santa Fe and New Mexico
There's plenty of room to stretch your legs in New Mexico. America's fifth largest state is also one of its least densely populated. The core destinations - artsy Santa Fe, outdoorsy Taos, and up-and-coming Albuquerque - offer incredibly close access to pristine wilderness. You can be skiing, cycling, hiking, and or shooting magnificent nature photos within a short drive of the capitol building in Santa Fe (which, at 7,200 feet, is the highest capital in America).
But don't overlook New Mexico's indoor diversions - there's not a decent-size town in the state that doesn't have at least a few prominent art galleries, and Santa Fe is the third-largest art market in the country. Spas (with a decidedly holistic, New Age-y bent), adobe inns, and restaurants specializing in everything from fiery green-chile stew to blue-corn pancakes also keep visitors coming back for more.
New Mexico has no down time - just four gentle seasons abundant with sunshine and dry, clear air. There's a lot to cover in the Land of Enchantment, and I can tell you the most about Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque, but feel free to ask travel questions on just about any town in the state, and on any subject - short hikes, affordable B&Bs, scenic drives, day spas, swanky nightclubs, antiques shopping, sushi. I'm even prepared to reveal some of New Mexico's best-kept secrets...just don't tell the locals you heard any of this from me.
Andrew will be answered your questions Tuesday, March 30, at noon EST.
Having traveled all over the country since becoming a travel writer in 1991, Andrew Collins moved to Santa Fe in 2000, drawn by the great four-season climate, stunning mountain views, and big-city sophistication and culture but small-city personality. He's since traveled just about every inch of the state, contributing articles on New Mexico to Budget Travel, Out Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Sunset, and New Mexico Magazine, as well as contributing to numerous guidebooks for Fodor's. He's also the author of Moon Handbooks Connecticut, Moon Handbooks Rhode Island, and the recently published Moon Handbooks New Orleans, and he teaches an online travel-writing course for New York City's acclaimed Gotham Writers' Workshop.
Andrew Collins: Hi there, thanks for joining me. I'm ready to answer your questions about Santa Fe and the rest of New Mexico.
Bakersfield, CA: If I wanted to see all of what New Mexico had to offer, from north to south and east to west, what hot spots would you not miss on a week-long New Mexico road trip?
Andrew Collins: New Mexico is a big enough state that you might not want to see all four corners of it in one week. However, a good strategy is to focus on Rio Grande Valley, which runs north to south from Taos all the way down to Las Cruces.
Give yourself a night in Taos, a couple of nights in Santa Fe, and a night in Albuquerque - there's half your week, and these cities are all within fairly easy drives of each other. From Albuquerque, head south on I-25 about three hours to Las Cruces (NM's second-largest city), which has a neat "Old Town" area. Spend a night here, and then head east on U.S. 70, stopping at White Sands Nat. Monument and driving up into the state's southern mountains. Spend a night or two in Ruidoso, a delightful and green mountain town - an excellent base for the region. If you still have a final day, continue east on U.S. 70 to Roswell, and then drive south to Carlsbad, a rather sleepy town by itself, but home to the famous Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
That's one very busy and action-packed week, but this itinerary gives you a great sampling of what to see and do in New Mexico.
Durham, NH: What are the "don't miss" restaurants in Sante Fe?
Andrew Collins: For traditional New Mexico fare, which truly does differ from other kinds of Southwestern and Mexico food, book a table at The Shed, a charming little restaurant a couple of blocks east of the historic downtown Plaza. Prices are moderate, and the food authentic.
Santa Fe has several upscale, contemporary restaurants where chefs are constantly trying some innovative things - my two favorites are Geronimo and The Compound, both of which are along art-gallery-laden Canyon Road.
You may not expect to find outstanding Indian (as in Asian Indian) food in town, but India Palace, a block from the Plaza, is outstanding. I've lived in London and NYC's East Village, both hubs of great Indian restaurants, and this place holds its own.
Gabriel's, a bit north of town, is famous for its tableside guacamole and great margaritas. Otherwise, the food is decent - not amazing. But it's loads of fun for appetizers and drinks around sunset.
Anonymous: Can a retirement home in Santa Fe be afforadable and provide lots of space inside and out?
Andrew Collins: By Southwestern U.S. standards, Santa Fe is quite pricey, but by national standards, comparing it with other resort towns, it's about average. House prices hover around $300K, but you can always find more space and land if you're willing to live outside of town a bit, say 20 minutes away.
There's a neat community about that distance from downtown Santa Fe called El Dorado, which offers some relatively affordable homes with big yards, big-sky views, and a nice community spirit. Quite a few retirees live there, as well as families and younger couples - it's pretty eclectic. You get much of what Santa Fe has to offer without the extremely high expenses.
Kingston, NY: I was thinking of taking a vacation to Santa Fe in October, but isn't it too hot in the desert then?
Andrew Collins: Actually, Santa Fe sits at 7,000 feet and it's considered "semi-arid" but not desert. Even in the dead of summer, temperatures rarely exceed 90 degrees, and even then, that's during the midday. There's very little humidity. Right now, and similarly in October, average highs are about 60 to 70 degrees - it's wonderful outdoors weather.
At night, temperatures drop considerably - often as much as 30 to 40 degrees. Even on July evenings, you can end up needing a light sweater if you're out strolling after dark. In winter, it can get very cold at night (typically 0 to 20 degrees), but the sun usually warms things up during the day so that it's in the 30s or 40s.
Taos is even a bit cooler, and Albuquerque is typically 10 to 15 degrees warmer, because it's at a considerably lower elevation.
In general, there are few parts of the country with a more gentle and moderate climate than Santa Fe.
Albuqueque, NM: What are the best restaurants for the value in Santa Fe and Albuqueque? I am going there to take my daughter out for her 30th birthday. Thanks!
Andrew Collins: In Albuquerque, I'd strongly recommend a restaurant in Nob Hill called Graze - very creative and reasonably priced food. It specializes in "small plates/tapas" type fare, so two people might order seven or eight dishes and share them.
In Santa Fe, one of my favorite recommendations for value is Harry's Roadhouse, on Old Las Vegas just southeast of town. It's a funky diner-style place but with a beautiful patio and cozy rooms inside (one has a fireplace). The food is mid-priced and eclectic - from green-chile cheeseburgers to fish tacos to meat loaf to pizzas.
New Orleans, LA: I know Santa Fe has lots of fancy spas, but what would you suggest for someone who wants to have a pampering/healing weekend, but doesn't have the money for an all-inclusive type place? Is it possible to have any kind of spa experience on a budget?
Andrew Collins: Well, doing the Santa Fe spa thing on a budget isn't easy, but here's one strategy: Book a reasonably priced room at any number of B&Bs or hotels that won't cost you a fortune. With the money you've saved, book some spa treatments at Ten Thousand Waves, a serene Japanese-style spa in the foothills on the east side of town. Prices at Ten Thousand Waves aren't terribly steep, but I wouldn't call it a budget experience either. Still, if you keep to a fairly conservative budget for accommodations and meals, a few treatments at Ten Thousand Waves will be perfect. And, no matter how much money you have, few spas in New Mexico rival Ten Thousand Waves when it comes to setting and scenery.
Van, TX: We are planning a trip to Santa Fe this summer, so I appreciate this opportunity. I have been wondering if it is appropriate, or even expected, to bargain with the Native Americans selling their jewelry and other artwork on the sidewalks of the downtown plaza. And what is your favorite restaurant for authentic southwest Mexican food in Santa Fe or the area nearby? Thank you.
Andrew Collins: Yes, it's perfectly appropriate to bargain with Native Americans selling their wares downtown. As long as you're respectful. I'd especially recommend it if you're buying multiple pieces from the same dealer. Personally, I find the prices pretty reasonable already, and the work being sold along the sidewalks in Santa Fe, outside the Palace of the Governors, is absolutely the real deal. So you needn't worry that if you pay full or nearly full price that you're getting ripped off.
Even in the fancier stores selling rugs, jewelry, and such, it's not uncommon to bargain a little.
As for truly authentic New Mex food, my favorite place is La Choza, a short drive from the Plaza. It's untouristy - a real locals' favorite. Another, although it somewhat lacks personality, is Diego Cafe. It's in a shopping center on the north side of downtown, but the food is totally authentic and wonderfully seasoned.
Bainbridge Island, WA: Our mostly elderly group of six will be driving a triangle route from Albuquerque to Santa Fe to the Farmington area. Any must see or do recommendations that do not involve too much walking?
Andrew Collins: The good news is that the entire region is ideal for road-tripping, and the scenery is spectacular from the car window, or if you pull over, hop out, and take a look around in a few spots. Also, in downtown Santa Fe and Albuquerque's Old Town, you can just park your car and walk around without having to go for miles and miles - sites, museums, and shops are close. Farmington is a bit more spread out.
So I would stick to the Plaza in Santa Fe and Old Town in Albuquerque, and if you feel like doing some light walking, head up to Santa Fe's Canyon Road, which is lined with art galleries and makes for a delightful but not terribly strenuous walk.
Keep in mind that although Chaco National Historic Site is one of the most impressive attractions en route between Albuquerque and Farmington, it's reached via a long and bumpy dirt road and it involves a bit of walking, so you might want to skip that unless you're up for a bit of an adventure. Otherwise, Chaco is a major highlight for the sort of itinerary you're planning.
Ajax, Ontario: For travel during the second half of September, should we look for accommodation with air conditioning?
Andrew Collins: In Santa Fe, Taos, or other northern communities, no air-conditioning is necessary. In fact, most private homes in northern NM don't even have or need air-conditioning, and many B&Bs don't. In Albuquerque, a/c is a good idea even in late September, as daytime highs can easily be in the 80s or even low 90s.
Generally, though, if an accommodation doesn't have air-conditioning in New Mexico, it's because it's not needed most of the year, and certainly not needed in September (note the earlier posting about climate/weather in Santa Fe and environs).
Salem, MA: Is there much in the way of municipal parking within roughly 5 minutes' walking distance from the Plaza? Or private parking - is it pricey? Or is there bus service to downtown from out on the Cerrillos strip?
Andrew Collins: Yes, there are a few municipal parking lots within a block of the Plaza, and they're not terribly expensive - under $10 per day, I believe. Most hotels and inns have free off-street parking, but there are exceptions.
There is good bus service along Cerrillos that leads back into town, and bus fare is just 1$ per ride ($2 for an unlimited day pass). If you're really looking to save money and don't want to deal with traffic, this is a good option. Just keep in mind buses only run till 10 on weekdays and till 6 or 7 pm on weekends. But for those few late-night times, you can call a cab. Cab fare in town isn't terribly pricey - probably $7 to $10 from Plaza to hotels along Cerrillos, depending on how far out you go.
Actually street parking in Santa Fe is hard to find during busy times, so do keep that in mind.
Washington, DC: I am going to Santa Fe for Memorial Day weekend. I will be there for 3 nights, 2 full days. I am looking for three things that are must-see or must-do and also where I can find the best food, preferably of the Latin persuasion. Thank you!
Andrew Collins: I've touched on food up above, but let me name the three must-see/do things for a longish Santa Fe weekend:
Visit Museum Hill, which comprises a four museums, and of these four, definitely hit the Museum of Folk Art and the rather new Museum of Spanish Colonial Art.
Hike Tent Rocks, which is New Mexico's newest national monument. It's just south of town in Cochiti and it's a little tricky to find, so just ask locals for directions. This is the best short day hike in the whole region - simply spectacular, and you can manage part of the hike even if you're not in the best shape. To do the entire hike, it takes maybe two hours and does involve an elevation gain of maybe 700 feet. It's just wonderful.
The third thing, even though you only have two days, is to make the drive up to Taos if you possibly can make the time. If you go by way of the scenic High Road, and then come back by the more direct Low Road, you can do the whole trip in five hours, allowing 90 minutes to windowshop and browse in Taos.
If time is tight, skip the Taos drive and instead drive the Turquoise Trail, which runs from Santa Fe to Albuquerque (it's the scenic route, far more interesting than the interstate). This one only takes 90 minutes or so, and there's some great gallery shopping in the tiny town of Madrid, along the way.
Just be sure to set aside at least one afternoon for a scenic drive somewhere - it's hard to go wrong in this part of the state. Just about any major route out of Santa Fe offers plenty of great scenery.
Gulf Shores, AL: I'd like to experience some of the beautiful terrain up close, but I'm not looking to rough it completely by camping out. Are there any day hikes or walking trails you'd recommend?
Andrew Collins: In addition to Tent Rocks, mentioned in the previous post, two great options for day hikes are Bandelier National Monument, about 30 minutes northwest of town near Los Alamos. Here you'll find both easy and challenging trails, some of which pass by fascinating Native American ruins.
And, just a 10-minute drive from the Santa Fe Plaza, head to the very far end of Upper Canyon Road. Here you'll find an Audubon Center with great trails for bird-watching and seeing plantlife. And right next door practically is the trailhead for a huge nature conservancy property, and this leads to the Dale Ball Trail Network, which connects numerous trails in the city's east-side foothills. You can get very close to nature in this part of town without having to be an experienced hiker or having to walk for more than a half-mile.
Providence, RI: Hi there, I am wondering if there are any great places to take a Southwestern cooking class in New Mexico. Also, just got your Rhode Island Handbook and it is probably the most comprehensive book on Rhode Island I've found. Thank you.
Andrew Collins: You're welcome, and thanks for the kind words.
There are several excellent cooking schools in NM offering classes to visitors. I would recommend either Jane Butel's Southwestern Cooking School, in Albuquerque, or the Santa Fe School of Cooking. Both of these facilities are highly respected, and at both you can take courses where you not only learn about cooking but get to sample lots of delicious food. Cooking classes are a wonderful way to get in touch with New Mexico's culture.
Anonymous: Are there also B&Bs located in the old section of Sante Fe and, if so, where are they located? What are the prices? Thanks.
Andrew Collins: Yup, there are several B&B located both in the historic district and in the historic east side of town. B&B prices vary greatly in Santa Fe, but you can generally find something charming (if intimate) for $100 to $125 in some of the historic neighborhoods in town in summer (and for less in fall through spring). Of course, prices can get much higher for larger and fancier digs.
Some great options in the historic neighborhoods include (I can vouch for all of these equally):
Grant Corner Inn
Inn of the Turquoise Bear
Don Gaspar Inn
Baltimore, MD: We are thinking of visiting New Mexico in October. I am very interested in photography and would like to know what are the good photo locations in the state besides the big hot air ballon festival?
Andrew Collins: My favorite thing, as strictly an amateur photographer, about New Mexico is that this part of the world makes just about anybody capable of taking stunning photos. You really can't go wrong. Just take some of the scenic drives or hikes I've discussed in previous posts. And try to hit them within two hours of sunrise or sunset. Northern NM has brilliant, clear blue skies and wonderful light, and the adobe architecture and earthy landscape tones make for a great contrast.
My absolute favorite hike for photography is Tent Rocks, mentioned earlier.
Chicago, IL: I'll be traveling with my 5-year-old and my 1-year-old to Santa Fe in June. Any good kids activities, really great playgrounds, etc., you can recommend?
Andrew Collins: Alas, Santa Fe is a very adult town - there aren't a ton of kids activities, although the Genoveva Chavez Community Center has a indoor pool and sports facilities that are inexpensive and kid-friendly - it's a beautiful facility. Also, definitely check out the Santa Fe Children's Museum, which is a short drive from the downtown Plaza. They often have entertainment for kids - puppet shows, storytelling, videos, etc.
Also, I'd urge you to visit the new Explora Science Center in Albuquerque - a wonderful touch-friendly, kids-oriented museum near Old Town. This place is amazing and lots of fun for kids of all ages.
New York, NY: Given that many folks combine a trip to Sante Fe with a stop in Taos, can you make some recommendations for dining, staying and sightseeing in Taos?
Andrew Collins: For a fairly small town, Taos has a wealth of great cultural and dining activities. Best meals are at Joseph's Table and the Trading Post Cafe, but there are so many other good ones. Orlando's has wonderful New Mexican food, and Byzantium has delicious Middle Eastern Fare.
Be sure to spend a couple of hours up in Arroyo Seco, the little village north of Taos en route to the ski valley - some delightful shops there and a cool cafe called Gypsy 360.
For museums, start at the new Taos Museum of Art, right in the center of town, which gives a great overview of the town's rich arts scene. And whatever you do, don't miss the Millicent Rogers Museum, on the north side of town...has an amazing stock of Native American and Spanish Colonial arts and crafts. Really a one-of-a-kind collection.
Miami, FL: What are your favorite luxury hotels in Santa Fe?
Andrew Collins: If money is no object, I'd go with the new Inn of the Five Graces in Santa Fe, and El Monte Sagrado Resort in Taos. Both are super-luxurious. And then don't miss Rancho de San Juan, which is about midway between Taos and Santa Fe. These are among the most characterful and sumptuous upscale accommodations in the Southwest.
Andrew Collins: Thanks for all your great questions. For those of you whose questions I was unable to answer, I hope you'll read some of my previous posts - in many cases I covered material that applied to several of your questions.
Hope to see you all in Santa Fe!